On this website, there are 120 questions tagged , and probably many more without the tag (a search for APA returns 244 results).

I work in applied mathematics, and among my colleagues the general approach to citation styles varies between "it doesn't matter as long as it's consistent" and "I use Bibtex and that's it; frankly I don't even know how this style is called".

Why is citation style considered important in other fields and receives so much interest? What is it that I am missing?

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    You clearly have never had an article administratively rejected based on incorrect citations. – StrongBad Aug 4 '16 at 15:54
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    @StrongBad, but, I think, "why do journals, confereces, or other publication venues really care?" is the real question. – Bill Barth Aug 4 '16 at 15:55
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    I think many of the people who ask questions in this tag are students who are being asked to use formal citations for the first time, often for a paper in their coursework or something. Not experienced academics. – ff524 Aug 4 '16 at 16:22
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    @ff524 Then the question is why their teachers have an inexplicable obsession with citation styles and demand a specific one in their assignments. – Federico Poloni Aug 4 '16 at 16:25
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    @StrongBad I don't even know anyone (in real life) that has ever had an article rejected based on incorrect citations. That would be utterly unthinkable in my field. – JeffE Aug 4 '16 at 19:21

The purpose of a citation style is to provide the reader with references in a standard and legible way. Using a certain style within a research field makes reading and skimming through citations within the field's publications more efficient.

Uniform citation style within a unit of certain field makes the unit's publications look uniform and adds to the quality of the publication, just as good grammar and otherwise good appearance does.

Arguably, a big fuss is when students are learning the correct ways of citation.


There are styles because otherwise it would be a complete mess. I speculate that it has to do with the way archiving and indexing of publications are done in a given library/institution/society, and the type of publications in the field (peer-reviewed articles vs book chapters): in some fields you may retrieve a publication with Journal + Volume + Page, whereas in other ones, you need Authors + Title + Year + Publisher. So different needs, different styles.

  • I don't think it's field-specific, but it is related to the type of the publication that you wish to cite: to identify an article, you need journal+volume+page, and to identify a book, you need title+year+publisher. – Federico Poloni Aug 4 '16 at 21:55

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